79 High Street

(The audio voiceover will be updated to match this revised text).
Recent image of No 79 High Street

In the early twentieth century, Mr Lewis Thompson, a successful Olney grocer trading at 9 High Street, built a hall at 79 High Street next to the Duke William public house. The hall had a stage and was used for social gatherings including concerts, meetings and dancing. Often at Election Meetings it could get a little rowdy with opposing supporters almost coming to blows. The building was called ‘The New Hall’ and was used by the townspeople for a good few years.

Sowmans Staff Dinner in the New Hall

Some years later, in 1919, it was bought by a Mr Clifford, who reconfigured the front of the building to form a cinema. The building stood a few metres back from the pavement with two steps leading up to the two front doors. Inside was a vestibule with a ticket office on the right hand side. The projection room was built over the front porch, with an outside staircase leading up to it. Mr Clifford was the first proprietor and his wife was known as ‘Madam’ Clifford and was the pianist and attendant.

The film being shown was the 1927 ‘The King of Kings’, a silent film directed by Cecil B de Mille – an iconic film of its day.

The seats installed near the screen were more like forms. Behind them came the wooden single tip-up seats and then a few rows with padded seats. The seats at the rear, just inside the left hand side of the hall, were plush padded with arm rests, and the floor for these had been made a little higher so that people could look over the heads of those in front.

In the early days, since there was no sound to accompany the film, when a performance was ready to begin, ‘Madam’ Clifford walked, much like a Duchess, down to the piano. When she was sitting comfortably on the piano stool the cinema was plunged into darkness and the projectionist, Mr Chapman, started the performance by turning a handle to feed the film through the projector. As the story unfolded ‘Madam’ Clifford would play very softly and slowly for a sad scene, and fast and loud for galloping horses or cowboys and indians fighting.

A photograph taken outside the cinema around 1920

In the cinema’s later years when silent films were long gone, Mr Webster was the proprietor, Mrs Pettit the cashier and refreshment sales and Alistair Bull was the projectionist.  The cinema closed in the early 1950s.

A 1949 pocket sized cinema programme

Subsequently the building has been used for shoe manufacture, a photographic studio, a beauty and fashion boutique and a private residence.


Before you leave this page, why not check out the original 1927 trailer of the above film ‘The King of Kings’:



This blog has been summarised from an article based on a letter written by Percy Wright in the early 1990s on the subject of Olney’s ‘Electric Cinema’. Read the full article on this website via this link:

Also the addendum from material supplied by Trevor Yorke, which contains a selection of pocket sized programmes issued between 1948 and 1949.

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